53rd OMM, Langdale, October 2022

It is tempting only to write enthusiastic event reports when things have gone well. Maybe there is as much, or maybe even more to be learned when things have not gone well. As has been the case at my first attempt at the OMM. 

I initially entered the OMM back in early 2020 or maybe it was even late 2019 with my lovely friend Nim. She lives in Inverness. The OMM was due to be in the Arrochar Alps. It seemed a great a way to spend the weekend together. This OMM was duly cancelled. Then it was moved to Langdale. Nim could no longer make it. Taking part was now something that had become important to me. I have completed 8 mountain marathons but the OMM is THE BIG ONE. It seems a gap in my mountain marathon CV to have not done it. So I talked Andy into being by partner. Last year it was cancelled last minute due to the fact that Langdale was under water and all roads were impassable. So our entry carried over to 2022. 

Having completed 2 Kirkfell classes (roughly equivalent ascent and mileage) at the Saunders we thought that it was feasible to enter the A Class at the OMM. It would be a challenge. Our chances of completing were never certain. I have a complex psychology when it comes to entering events. If my chances of completion are certain then I struggle to get excited by it. For me, the challenge is pushing to see how far I can go/how hard a class I can complete. This is a risky game as the chances of failure are always present. For us to complete the A Class we were aware that everything would have to go well. 

On the Tuesday before the OMM I came down with a sore throat which then turned into a horrible throat infection/virus. I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday in bed with a fever and swollen glands. Eating was so painful that the necessary pre event nutrition just did not happen. This did not fit in with everything going well! I crawled downstairs on Friday morning and reckoned we could make it to the start line on Saturday. In hindsight, maybe we should have changed courses but I thought it was worth a roll of the dice. 

So, a quick lateral flow was taken to reassure Granny that the kids weren’t going to give her Covid then they were duly dropped off. Then the kit list was checked and bags were packed. 

This is just my individual kit in the picture. Andy gallantly carries the tent and stove.

As we arrived in Langdale on Friday evening it really was exciting! It was dark, wet and breezy but you couldn’t resist the pre event buzz as we got registered. 

Saturday morning dawned and we quietly and methodically worked our way through our familiar event morning routine and arrived at the start calm and ready to go. Spirits were high and the obligatory start line selfie was taken (that is why mobile phones are on the kit list right?). It was 8am. I joked that this would be the last smile of the day. I think that it may have been. 

We set off steadily but as we hit the first climb it was soon clear to me that I did not have a lot of strength. Andy asked how I was feeling. Not great but not awful I think was my assessment. 

We worked through the first 6 controls which were all around Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and then over by Cold Pike before dropping down to cross Wrynose Pass. The cloud remained stubbornly low – we had about 10 metres visibility all day and it never felt like it got properly light. After the first hour or so the rain was pretty constant for the whole day with some periods of it being heavier than others. I was cursing my Kamlieka waterproof which just felt heavy and not in any way waterproof. My new Inov-8 ‘waterproof’ mitts proved to be waterproof for about 30 mins. I was soaked through and although I was keeping warm enough I just could not get going. 

We headed up on to the Coniston fells and continued to work our way through the controls but my lack of pace was starting to worry me. I started clocking the closing times on the controls. We had a sketchy contour into control 8 across rocky scree slopes. All day the ground had been absolutely soaked and the rocks so slick that I just couldn’t trust anything I put my feet on. The visibility seemed worse than ever. We were searching for a reentrant (are often a bitch to find at the best of times). We heard voices and came across a pair of young male runners. They had been searching for the same checkpoint for a while having reapproached the area from several different attack points. We were looking for a spur which would lead us to the reentrant. I clocked on the map that the spur the reentrant was next to should be facing SE, the one we were at was facing S. We moved a little further on, found the spur facing in the correct direction and quickly located the checkpoint. I was pleased that I was still functioning enough to pick up on these small details. We had to keep thinking all day which makes you mentally as well as physically fatigued. We were there 40 mins before it closed. We had 1 hour 40 mins to get to the next checkpoint.

We got to checkpoint 9 an hour before it closed. We had 2 hours to get to the next one. It seemed that if we just kept moving we would be OK. Only our route to checkpoint 10 took us on a long, rough contour across more wet, slippy, rocky ground. And now it was dark. After a torturous climb up beside a stream we dibbed the checkpoint and had 90 mins to get to the finish. We started off on a bearing up a direct route climbing Grey Friar but we very quickly hit a boulder field. In the dark and with visibility so poor we had no way of knowing if this was just a few metres long or a few hundred metres long. We changed plan and headed around to the col up a grassier climb. 

Every step for me by now was an absolute battle and I was starting to lose my head, unable to get anything to make sense. When we reached the col we had a final route choice to make. Take the path up and over Grey Friar. Or gamble on a contour that looked like it would be rocky. We’d had enough treacherous rocky contouring for one day and headed up the path to the summit of Grey Friar – hoping for a path down to the crossing point we needed to hit. This path did not exist and we slipped and crawled down horrible ground to the fence. But no crossing point. Our final decision – go along the fence to find the crossing point or head down and around the out of bounds area. We had 7 minutes to make it to the final checkpoint. Andy backed himself to navigate around the out of bounds. It didn’t pay off this time. There was a mess of fences and walls some of which seemed to be unmapped. The 7 minutes ticked by and it was game over. We never made it to checkpoint 11 and trudged into camp after 12 hours out on the fells in the most horrific weather to be facing a big fat DNF. 

It was 845pm and we knew we needed to be careful and look after ourselves. I was exhausted and soaked to the skin but first we needed to find somewhere to pitch the tent. We wandered around a boggy field desperately searching for anything that wasn’t ankle deep in water. We squeezed in beside another tent and got ourselves sorted. Tent up, dry clothes on, food on, hot chocolate on, sleep. 

The next morning we were awoken at 6am by the sound bagpipes kindly provided by the organisers. Last night had been all about surviving. This morning, the realisation of not making it started to become clear. It is pretty hard to motivate yourself to get up and going, putting wet kit on, making breakfast while squished in a tiny tent without the excitement of a day 2 to go at. I had already decided not to run. I had felt so awful all day on the Saturday that I just needed to get back to the van. Cue an announcement from Martin Stone offering to pair up people whose partners didn’t want to run. Andy went off to seek a day 2 partner and he had fun running day 2 of the B course with a young guy called Henry who had also failed to find checkpoint 11 on the A course the night before. 

48 teams started the A course. 24 teams completed both days. We were in no way alone in our failure to complete. This is an absolute brute of a challenge. 

Should we have changed to the B course? I know that we would have got round it and I could have said that I had completed an OMM. However, I also know that I would have been left wondering, what if? 

So what now? If everything went right, could I do it? We were about 10 mins and a poor call away from getting day 1 of this one done. OMM 2023 is in Snowdonia. I do like the Snowdonia.